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Reviewing adventure activities - Roger Greenaway

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Series of three articles about how to review outdoor experiences were published in the journal of adventure education abd outdoor leadership.


Doing reviewing

Reviewing by doing

Reviewing adventure activities

    This article presents four examples of how the four stage reviewing sequence

    can be applied to different kinds of adventure.

    As in previous articles [JAEOL 9(1) and 9(2)], the term 'reviewing' refers to:

    "an activity that is used to encourage individuals to reflect, describe, analyse and communicate what they recently experienced." [1]

Adventures stimulate stories. The stories which young people tell about their adventures are shaped by a number of different influences. These influences are likely to include:

  • the individual
  • the group
  • the activity
  • the aim
  • the leader/instructor
  • the review

It sometimes happens that just one of these influences will dominate all the others:

  • Individuals with very low self-esteem, for example, are likely to interpret all adventures in ways that re-inforce their poor self-image.
  • Group influence (for good or ill) can shape the whole experience from beginning to end: "We are the best/worst. This is fun/boring. Let's go for challenges/easy options."
  • The activity itself can be a source of powerful but simple stories which override all other influences. For example, the stories from an abseil tend to be simple but strong one-liners.
  • The overall aim can influence all else, such as when two very different groups are brought together for mutual understanding or reconciliation (e.g. different abilities, different cultures, or rival gangs.)
  • The leader/instructor can emphasise one key storyline throughout (e.g. co-operation, achievement, observation, recreation, big adventure, nature awareness).
  • The reviewing session can be powerful enough to re-shape storylines that are already forming and can generate new storylines that are more hopeful and more helpful.

What is meant in this article by "stories" (or "storylines") are the various ways in which people recall, frame, interpret or talk about their experiences. Reviewing is a means of intervening in these sense-making processes: firstly to find out what impact an adventure is having, and secondly to enhance the value of the experience. Reviewing can make the positive impact of adventures longer-lasting by developing and extending the "stories" which arise spontaneously during adventures.


The way in which the examples in this article have been created was firstly to choose a variety of adventure activities. These were: rock climbing, skiing, unaccompanied walks and accompanied adventurous journeys. The next step was to think of the kind of experience which typically occurs in each of these activities. The four experiences chosen were: success; learning a skill; responsibility and co-operation. Combining these two steps resulted in the following titles:

  1. Climbing: reviewing to build on success
  2. Skiing: reviewing to develop learning skills
  3. Expedition: reviewing to develop responsibility
  4. Group adventures: reviewing to develop co-operation

These examples aim to show how reviewing can help to bring out what is "already there" in the experience. It is of course quite possible that the same activities could be used for quite different purposes - providing that there is a close fit between what participants experience most intensely and the main aim of the activity. It is also possible to have a number of aims attached to one activity, but this does risk loss of direction without any aims being satisfactorily achieved. Consequently, each of the examples below demonstrate ways of staying focused on a single aim throughout a reviewing sequence. The four examples also demonstrate how at least four of the key influences mentioned in the opening paragraph (the activity + the aim + the review + the leader) can work together to achieve a key purpose within the field of adventure education.

The four stage reviewing sequence which is used in these examples was described in "Reviewing by Doing" in JAEOL 9(2), but for easy reference is summarised here:

  1. EXPERIENCE The first stage is to establish or 'relive' what happened. This stage can serve as a useful reminder of significant incidents. This stage can help to set the agenda for later stages, but the main focus of this first stage is on what happened.

  2. EXPRESS The second stage is a vital one, but tends to be the stage most at risk if review time is limited. This stage recognises that experiences (especially adventurous ones) stimulate the senses and arouse emotions. This stage focuses on the quality of the experience: "What was it like?", "How did it feel?"

  3. EXAMINE The third stage is more analytical and rational. 'All-talk' reviews tend to arrive too soon at this stage, especially if reviewers are too impatient to draw out the learning from the activity. If the experience has been a 'whole person' experience, it is important to use review methods which match the fullness of the experience.

  4. EXPLORE The fourth stage is the most practical stage. It involves trying out something that has been prompted by earlier stages of the sequence. This stage would usually involve setting targets, but it is equally important to keep the sense of curiosity and exploration alive. [2]

CLIMBING: reviewing to build on success


Before going climbing, do some trust exercises, organise the choosing of climbing partners and emphasise safety issues. Ensure that young people have set realistic targets, perhaps by asking: "If you get half way up a climb would you see that as success or failure?"


Staff listen out for and record any quotes that may be useful reminders at the review stage.


Experience: Guided reflection: (guided by prompts from the leader with pauses for silent thoughts): "Lie down. Relax. Try to remember what you were thinking and feeling as you walked up to the climbing site ... when you first saw the rock race ... when you were putting on the gear ... when the belaying system was explained ... when you were belaying your partner ... when you started off climbing ... half way up ... when you'd finished."

Express: Soundtrack: (outline instructions for each person to follow): Sketch the climbing route on A4 paper. Overlay transparent plastic (e.g. OHP film) and add speech bubbles and thought bubbles to show what you were saying and thinking at different points of the climb. Add comments from spectators if they affected you in any way.

Examine: Lift off the plastic film, and talk with a partner about other situations (in your own experience) which this pattern of words could fit. If none come to mind, then wipe off some words (starting with those specific to climbing) until you can think of a situation that more or less fits. Describe or sketch the similar situation. See how the words fit and discuss any similarities and differences.

Explore: Choose a future occasion in which there are likely to be challenges or difficulties (next activity or "back home") and produce a sketch or strip cartoon (including speech and thought bubbles) to show how you would like things to work out.


The most important feature of this technique is the separation of the words (or soundtrack) from the rock face picture when the transparency is lifted. It makes 'transfer of learning' a visible concept which can be readily understood.

If young people have difficulty finding a similar situation, then provide one or two visual examples (prepared earlier) to demonstrate what you mean by "fitting the words to another situation".

A good staff to student ratio is advisable for this review as it is basically an individual activity which may need some one-to-one support (from staff or other group members).

The review process outlined above is only recommended following a climbing session in which all young people experienced achievement - at least in the sense that they performed better than they had expected.

SKIING: reviewing to develop learning skills


How did you learn? Before setting off to the slope give each learner a record which lists different ways of learning, e.g.:

  • watching a good demonstration
  • receiving encouragement
  • being told what I'm doing wrong
  • playing games
  • experimenting (without instruction)
  • being taught by another learner
  • teaching another learner
  • repeated practice of one exercise
  • trying a new skill
  • practising in more difficult conditions
  • practising in easier conditions
  • journeying (keeping on the move)
  • other ways of learning not listed


The instructor should simply aim to provide a good skiing session and should not be unduly influenced by the review process which is to follow it.


Experience: (Instructions to group members) Tick the learning methods which you yourself experienced during the session.

Express: Score each learning method which you experienced on a scale 0 - 10 to show how helpful you found each method during that particular session. Explain and discuss your scoring with a partner.

Examine: Look at the variations between how different people like to learn to ski. Do some people prefer to learn in different ways? How much is this variation in how people like to learn to do with confidence, skiing ability, motivation, etc.?

Discuss how you like to learn other new skills. How is learning to ski similar and different to learning these other skills?

Explore: If the instructor is not involved in the review, then find a suitable way of giving any useful feedback to the instructor. Encourage individuals to try out different ways of improving their skiing (during or outwith their lesson).


This approach to reviewing was first devised in order to make better use of the minibus journey back from regular skiing sessions: the paired conversations can be carried out during the journey. If individuals keep all their records, it is then useful to review how their experiences and preferences changed over the whole period of their skiing lessons.

Where young people really want to learn to ski, then it makes sense to give some attention to learning methods as well as to skiing methods. The more the instructor is involved in (or at least informed about) this reviewing process, the better the chances that the instructor will end up with the winning skiing class!

EXPEDITION: reviewing to develop responsibility


Before the group leave, make a record of the plan which includes the route, what each person's responsibilities are, in what circumstances the plan would change, what to do in the event of an emergency, etc.


Make a tape recording in which each person is invited to talk for a minute or two about their particular responsibilities and about any hopes or concerns they have about the expedition.


Experience: Sketch Map: Ask the group to make a large sketch map of the route taken, showing significant events such as decisions made, incidents (funny or serious), changes of mood, remembered quotes, changes of weather, observations about the environment, meeting other people, etc. [2]

Express: Happy Chart: Referring to the map, divide up the experience into about ten stages, and ask individuals privately to record their feelings at each stage on a scale of -5 to +5. Make a giant graph marking a vertical scale for feelings (-5 to +5) and a chronological list of the ten or more events along the foot. Using different coloured pens (or different symbols) each person marks in their scores for each event, joins them together, and signs their line. [3]

Examine: Invite comment and discussion about the pattern, paying particular attention to "surprises" such as not realising that one person was so high or so low. Also pay attention to individual scores at any point where their individual responsibility was important.

    Playback: Replay the tape-recording made at the start of the expedition. At any point during the replay, individuals ask for the tape to be paused if they have any comments or questions.
    Feedback: Check whether each individual has had fair and balanced feedback on their responsibilities. Provide extra opportunities for feedback where necessary.

Explore: Discuss what responsibilities individuals would like to take on: either during another activity or in other settings in their local community.


The above methods are particularly useful for reviewing independent expeditions, when the reviewer knows little or nothing about what happened at the start of the review. The methods can also be applied to expeditions which were accompanied by the reviewer. Most of the methods described above can be used for reviewing any kind of journey: walking, cycling, canoeing, caving etc.

GROUP ADVENTURES: reviewing to develop co-operation


Gorge walking, scrambling, low level traversing, caving, and night walking. All of these activities involve journeying in adventurous places. They require general agility rather than any specialist skills. They are activities in which group members are likely to be giving and receiving plenty of encouragement, advice and physical help. Such adventures are likely to create a strong sense of group achievement.


Before the adventure, a strong emphasis is given to the fact that it is a group activity, and that safety, success and enjoyment will depend on the extent to which people help each other.


The level of difficulty can be adjusted in various ways during the adventure to try to ensure that everyone needs to give and receive help.


Experience: Rounds: My personal high point; my personal low point; what I found most difficult; what I found surprisingly easy. [3]

    Action replays: As a group, choose four or five situations during the journey which demonstrate the different moods of the group, and re-enact these situations as if you were replaying a video of them. Discuss issues arising, focusing on examples of co-operation (or lack of it).

Express: Support sculptures: (preparation) Discuss with a partner the ways in which you feel that you helped individuals and contributed to the success of the group. Describe the ways in which you felt that others were helping or encouraging you.

Examine: Each person takes it in turn to stand in the middle of the room. They then bring in others closer to them depending on how much "support" they feel they received from each person in the group. The manner of the support can be shown by appropriate gestures and body positions decided by the "sculptor". As each person should be well prepared for this (from their paired discussions), these human sculptures are best carried out at a fast, even frantic, pace. As soon as each sculpture is complete, ask everyone who has been included to remember where the "sculptor" has placed them.

    Check to see if anyone feels that the support they gave to others has been overlooked in any way. There should now be plenty to discuss about support and co-operation in the group.

Explore: Try to summarise the discussion into a few key points about how the group can maintain and develop group co-operation. Ask individuals to think about ways in which they want to apply (to their everyday lives) what they have learned about themselves in relation to support and co-operation.


The kind of process outlined above can dramatically increase the levels of support and co-operation in a group. This helps to provide a solid base from which difficult or sensitive issues can be tackled more readily. The above sequence can also be useful preparation for groups to carry out more independent activities such as unaccompanied walks, problem solving exercises, or organising events in their local community.


1. L K QUINSLAND AND A VAN GINKEL (1984), How to Process Experience. The Journal of Experiential Education, 7 (2), p8-13
2. ROGER GREENAWAY (1991), Reviewing by Doing, JAEOL 9(2)
3. ROGER GREENAWAY (1990), More Than Activities, Save the Children Fund

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